REVIEW: Ashes to Ashes
“Ashes to ashes / And dust to dust / If the women don’t get you / The liquor must…”
This Week 4 Corpus late show might leave you with more unanswered questions than your entire Tripos but is thoroughly worth the watch.
In this stellar rendition of the late Harold Pinter’s 1996 situation drama Ashes to Ashes, the tiny Corpus Playroom is transformed into the country house of two lovers, Devlin and Rebecca, convincingly portrayed by Kathryn Cussons and Beatriz Santos respectively.
Director Joe Richards stated that “Ashes to Ashes isn’t an easy work to stage. The play is deliberately constructed so that it’s filled with inconsistencies, ambiguities and non-sequiturs.” This proved to be true, as I walked away thinking that the two brilliant actresses had been a psychotherapist and a traumatised patient whereas my guest had clocked that they were lovers all along. At least I feel less stupid now.
In all seriousness, the difficulty of the play is apparent from the very beginning. The audience is greeted with a long stretch of silence as Rebecca gets accustomed to her surroundings, allowing one to take in the rather sparse set. Apart from a bookshelf, a coffee table and some lamps, the primary focus falls upon the couch in the middle, where Rebecca begins her meandering dialogue as Devlin walks in.
Despite comprising a two woman cast, the actresses made great use of the small space, moving around from the sofa to other chairs in the room. The dim lighting progressively gets darker over the course of the hour, giving the play a feel of the passage of time as the two lovers converse. The play is also punctuated by occasional radio broadcasts about Brexit and other items of current importance, placing the play in a modern context.
However, what really captivates is the two characters. The plot as such is difficult to follow, with Rebecca jumping between a story about a violent relationship with an unnamed lover, meditations on religion and her life story, as both Devlin and the audience try to piece together what the hell is going on. But ultimately, the actual story at hand isn’t all that important. The real focus lies on memory, with transcends the domestic situation presented to us to make us question the veracity of Rebecca’s words and whether she is fully conscious of what she is saying. Allusions to the Holocaust and babies being taken from their mothers’ arms is hardly cheery material, but for an opening night show this close to exam term the performance was watertight. Particular praise must be given to Santos’ re-enactment of the violent exchange with her lover from the beginning of the piece towards the play’s conclusion, engaging the audience completely.
The play was excellently directed, turning very difficult source material into a stunningly dark performance. The clashes between personal and political issues, past and present and domestic life and horrendous atrocities were incredibly interesting, leaving me pondering long after the short hour was over. If I have but one criticism, it’s that more use could have been made of the Playroom’s different seating angles, as it could have been interesting to let the other side of the audience have more exposure to the characters as they moved around.
I’m not going to lie to you, this play will make your head hurt. This is a dark, brooding piece that requires the audience to infer a lot from a little. But with perfomances this captivating, it would be silly not to go see this wonderful play.
It might even make you feel better knowing that there are deeper issues than your exam results!